The Karst Loop of the Monument Trails at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area offers stunning water and woodland views of Beaver Lake for mountain bikers and hikers.
A cool and refreshing way to see this grand scenery is by kayak.
Sliding a boat into the clear water at the park’s Page Sawmill launch site makes for easy access to this isolated slice of the lake in the rugged folds of the 12,000-acre state park. Paddlers see the same sites as hikers on the Karst Loop only from a different perspective gliding across the water near the trail. Some 3 to 4 miles of the 8-mile Karst Loop trail is along the lake shore.
The beauty of rippled water and forest starts with the first dip of a paddle after launching. Gnarly submerged timber juts skyward from the lake surface. Trees seem to drip with the color of summertime green. Forest cloaks rock outcrops and low bluffs.
These are more hidden in summer by leafy vegetation, but paddling close to shore offers better views. Boxcar-sized boulders in the clear water adds to the calendar-page views.
A flotilla of paddlers enjoying this spectacular piece of the lake’s Van Winkle Hollow arm got together on a whim one late May afternoon. Thanks to technology, Peggy Bulla with the Sugar Creek chapter of the Ozark Society shot out an email to members that basically said, “Who wants to go kayaking?” A dozen paddlers showed up.
The hiking trail was christened Karst Loop to highlight the karst geology of the underground world that is prevalent in much of the Ozarks. Karst is primarily limestone that has been eroded by water, producing cracks, fissures, sinkholes and caves.
Cracks and openings in the rock outcrops by the water are prime examples of karst. The most stunning example is Page Sawmill Cave, which paddlers pass not long into their trip. Hikers walk on the trail above the large cave and don’t see the entrance. Kayakers can’t miss it.
The group naturally turned boats toward the mysterious and dark entrance. At high lake levels, as Beaver Lake is now, water is halfway up the cave entrance. Kayakers can actually paddle a few feet into Page Sawmill Cave. Bulla was the first to venture into the spooky realm.
In the 90-degree heat, cool air coming from the cave caressed the warm faces of the kayakers at the entrance. Alan Bland, retired Army Corps of Engineers ranger at Beaver Lake, has explored inside the cave with expert cavers. The cave system is massive, he told the group. It goes back about one-half mile. There are dangerous side tunnels and tight squeezes everywhere in its perpetual darkness that are filled with mud and water. Bats are abundant.
Bulla paddled her short kayak into the cave and disappeared around a curve to the left. She made it about 30 feet inside then backed her boat out.
All Arkansas caves on public land are closed because of white nose syndrome in bats. Show caves, such as War Eagle Cavern near Hobbs State Park, are open for tours as usual.
Most of the group opted to admire Page Sawmill Cave from its grand entrance. Water and limestone combined to form the cave. It’s grand example of karst terrain at Arkansas’ largest state park.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip.
Paddle around the park
The Van Winkle Hollow arm of Beaver Lake, east of Rocky Branch park, is popular with paddlers because much of the water is surrounded by Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. There are two launch sites in the park.
One is at the Page Sawmill area of the park. To get there from the park visitor center, travel east on Arkansas 12 for 3 miles to Rambo Road. Turn left and go one-half mile. Where the paved road turns sharply right go straight on the gravel road to the water.
Another is in the back of Van Winkle Hollow. To reach it from the visitor center, go west on Arkansas 12 about 2.5 miles. Turn right on Arkansas 303. Turn right on the first gravel road along 303. Follow it 1 mile to the lake.
Source: Staff report